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A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

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A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

This isn’t the kind of book I would usually read. I am not someone who thrills to tales of real life violence; the True Crime section in the bookshop is of no interest to me and although I do read in-depth newspaper and magazine articles, I try to steer clear of sensationalist nonsense that seems to glamorise crime. There’s a ton of that crap about though, so clearly there’s an audience.

Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of two teens who murdered 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris injured another 24 people, attempted to kill many more with home made bombs which failed to detonate, and committed suicide. I haven’t read anything beyond news reports at that time, did not want to read assumptions and theories about what happened, but was interested to hear that Sue Klebold had written a book and curious to know what she had to say. I imagined it would be a painful read, and I approached it with empathy – I am a mother of teens, I know our teens make choices that aren’t comfortable for us, but this horror is unimaginable and unbearable. There are those who squarely blame the parents  – how could they not have seen who their sons were? That’s not how I think, but how do you live with that anger against you, that level of blame? How do you endure when your son is revealed to be a hate filled murderer?

This book is Sue Klebold’s attempt to do something positive. She wants to alert people to the signs she missed in her own son (that he had “brain illness”, that he was depressed, bullied, at break point. She aligns herself with other mothers of kids who committed suicide, albeit murder-suicide, and speaks about how her son wanted to die. Unlike Eric Harris, who wanted to kill. There is a clear distinction.)

Sometimes people speak passionately and the words are vivid and maybe a little messy, but heartfelt, and other times, usually when professionals speak, each word has been carefully chosen and the delivery is dry and careful. This book is the latter. It reads as if lawyers have combed through it 1,000 times for anything potentially damaging. There is nothing here but a few descriptions of her son, meaningless to anyone except her family, a few anecdotes that present him as “normal”, a lot of scientific evidence of brain illness, and an avoidance of anything potentially controversial. The first few chapters describe her disbelief as the police turn up at her home immediately after the shootings. She has no access to news but bits filter through as she waits outside while the house is searched, enough that she understands her son was involved. She assumes he was an unwilling participant, or didn’t understand what was happening, or was in thrall to Eric Harris. But she won’t describe the actual events, or what it felt like to comprehend the truth.

There is a necessary need not to offer a template for others, but what is left is not a compelling read. It’s a terrible story, but we do not learn anything here and Klebold seems reluctant to go beaneath the surface. Perhaps she can’t, our minds protect us from unbearable things, but it makes me wonder why she wrote this.

The most valuable thing in the book is not written by her. In the introduction, Andrew Solomon says, “…we want to believe that parents create criminals because in supposing that, we reassure ourselves that in our own house, where we are not doing such wrong things, we do not risk this calamity. I am aware of this delusion, because it was mine…

I came away thinking that the psychopathy behind the Columbine massacre could emerge in anyone’s household. It would be impossible to predict or recognise; like a tsunami, it would make a mockery of all our preparations.”

Which is chilling, but feels true to me. There is a tipping point when our children, necessarily so, grow away from us and all we can do is hope the foundations we have laid hold them steady. We can’t be responsible for their actions. Klebold’s efforts to get more recognition and support for people suffering mental illness is admirable and I applaud her determination to use this awful notoriety she has to do something positive. I don’t think this is a good book though. There are a variety of assertions made – “We’ve all felt angry enough to fantasise about killing someone else.” Well, no, actually I haven’t. “Most of us can’t name a single celebrity who has struggled–successfully anyway–with depression or another mood disorder…” Erm, well actually I can… There’s an attempt to present Dylan Klebold as a “normal” teen but offers scant evidence of it and all the while we know that behind his mother’s back he was writing diaries planning his suicide, filming vitriolic segments with Eric Harris, playing with guns, getting into trouble with the police.

Why would we want to judge Sue Klebold? Why would we need to? I hope she finds a peace in her activism and support. But this is a book review and this book is not great.


Smash Lits with Brian Broome

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I had the absolute pleasure of choosing a brilliant non-fiction flash to publish this week at The Forge Literary Magazine. Balk by Brian Broome manages to be poignant, achy, sad and funny. It’s a snapshot of him as a young, gay, black American boy and it fucking rocks. As does his Smash Lits interview. Thanks, Brian!

1) What is your favourite cheese?


2) What was your favourite book as a child?

“The Pigman” by Paul Zindel.

3) Who is/was your unlikely crush?

Alan Alda.

4) Who would play you in the film of your flash?

Caleb McGlaughlin from “Stranger Things”.
(Aww – I can see that!)

5) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?


Bacon, Bacon, Bacon, Bacon. Why? Because bacon and I read that tofu gives men boobs. I don’t care if that’s true or not and I guess enough bacon could give me boobs. But, if I’m gonna have boobs, they’re gonna be bacon boobs.

6) Creative nonfiction or fiction? Why? 

Creative nonfiction to write. Fiction to read.

7) Your writing is music, what style is it?

Any of the unfinished symphonies or K-POP.

8) Have you ever had a nickname? What?

Never ever tell. Ok, my Dad called me Big Boo.

9) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust

Yes. I’ve seen it.

10) How much money did you spend yesterday?

I spent 52 dollars at the Dollar Store.

11) What’s your most vivid childhood memory?

I think you may have just read it.

12) Do you bite your nails?

Yes. But, only for grooming purposes, not out of nervousness.

13) What’s your favourite sweet (candy)?


14) What is your motto for life?

Construct. Delude. Believe.

15) What did you do last Saturday night?

I worked. I wait tables and Saturday is a big night.

16) You hold a dinner party and can only invite writers. Who do you

Jackie Collins and Frantz Fanon. THAT would be interesting.

17) Do you have any writing rituals?

Procrastinate until the last minute.

18) What’s your favourite ball?

Any of the balls featured in “Paris is Burning”.

19) What’s your favourite swear?


20) What question should I have asked you?

“Do you enjoy your life?”
Answer: “I guess so.”


Ghost trees

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I visited the University of Oxford Botanic Gardens on Friday. This wonderful tree, a Davidia involucrata – informally known as a handkerchief tree, a dove tree, or a ghost tree, because of its beautiful white “bracts” which flutter in the breeze – is in full bloom, and truly a glorious sight.


Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, I kept thinking about it. What a tree! How brilliant that I didn’t know it existed and then there it was; perfect, astonishing, surprising.

It’s nine years today since Matt Kinnison died. I bet he’d have liked this tree. He’d probably have known all about it because he knew a LOT of things. He’d have liked the informal names and the floaty shapes and the fact it’s named after Father Amand David, a French missionary who lived in China and discovered the Giant Panda.

Nine years passing means the sting, the grief, the pain, has gone. Not having Matt in my life is the norm now. Such a bloody shame though.

If I told you my flash was based on a dream I had about Ted Hughes it’d sound really shit…

But hopefully, it isn’t. Thank you to Lauren Becker for publishing Corium Magazine and including my short, short fiction – The Poet, Ted in the latest edition.



Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary

Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary’s London is full of shadows, darkness, underground places where people can vanish; places full of people, estates, tower blocks, all with blind spots and corners around which people disappear. A young girl running away from something, or someone, causes a car crash. Another girl is missing. Around a table, three well behaved young girls eat dinner served by a slightly older girl, presided over by a man. His name is Harm. On an estate an elderly woman watches warily from her window, noting names and times of the kids outside running riot. What links these people?

This is the third DI Marnie Rome book and if you are a fan of the others in the series you won’t be disappointed. Hilary’s customary intelligence and storytelling verve are in full force. It’s amazing how chilling words on a page can be. There’s a smashing twist that I genuinely didn’t see coming, oh, and tantalising snippets woven in about Stephen Keele, the killer of Rome’s parents, whose story we MUST learn one day.

I can’t say more for fear of spoilers, so I’ll leave you with this:

“The kitchen reeked of wax. Fourteen candles burning but they didn’t make it brighter, just dragged in more of the darkness. Greedily, the way his pain pulled at her, at everything.”

The Museum of You by Carys Bray


When Carys Bray writes, woah, she sure does get you in the feels. Both “The Museum of You” and Bray’s first novel, “A Song for Issy Bradley,” deal with the aftermath of death, but Bray has a wonderful way of illuminating darkness with humour and empathy so the novels remain a pleasure to read.

Clover Quinn’s mother Becky died six weeks after Clover was (unexpectedly) born. Now 12, Clover lives with her bus driver dad, Darren, whose silence on the subject of her mum only fuels her desire to know more. In the long summer holidays, inspired by a school trip to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Clover attempts to curate an exhibition of her mum, using bits and bobs of belongings that have remained in a cluttered, untouched bedroom for years. Where the novel is strongest is in the relationship between Clover and her dad and in the depiction of him adapting to a life that looks entirely different from how he’d once hoped. Darren is a wonderfully sympathetic character, flawed as all of us are, and very recognisable in his attempts to be the best parent he can.

“He could make jam or something. He remembers the things mum used to make with the raspberries: cheesecakes, trifles, tarts, fools and mousses. They could have a go, him and Clover, she’d like that. He has had these ideas before but it’s a struggle to make them materialise; by the time he gets home there will be something else to occupy his thoughts – the detached radiator, the hall walls, the worry that there may be something else she needs.”

The novel features a supporting cast of characters, the most interesting of whom is Jim, Darren’s troubled brother in law who has mental health issues and is hopeless at self-care. Describing Darren’s feelings towards him – “His kindness comes in bursts and he tires quickly. It was easier in the early days, when it seemed as if it was going to be more of a sprint than a marathon,” succinctly describing the fluctuating resolve of trying to help someone desperately needy who doesn’t seem likely to want to, or be able to, ever change.

Mrs Mackeral is the malapropism yelling next door neighbour who is maybe a little too cartoonish to feel fully realised, but provides some amusing moments. Colin is Darren’s best mate who along with his sister, and Darren’s dad, form a kind of family unit around Clover. Whilst death underpins the narrative, there is a sense of optimism that this wonky group provide.

Clover is deftly drawn and is a character to cheer for. The story is heart warming whilst not shying away from truth.

Towards the end of the book Bray writes,“Grief never goes away. And that’s no bad thing – it’s only the other side of love, after all.”
How beautiful is that?

This is an emotionally honest novel written by a writer who marries real insight with engaging writing.

There’s nothing more boring than other people’s dreams…

There’s nothing more boring than other people’s dreams…

I dreamt about my dad. I was in a large block of offices full of people and saw him at the top of some stairs. He was wearing a suit, shirt and tie. He looked more 70’s dad than anything (maybe my subconscious translating the priests’ assertion that dad would have a “new and glorified body” and assuming pre heart attacks would be a prime point in time.)

I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

Then, in my dream, I thought, I mustn’t forget this. Remember.
I went up to dad and I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

But I didn’t know what the thing was. I didn’t know how to get there. I retraced the conversation over and over, looking for clues.

I went up to dad and I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

I went up to dad and I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

I went up to dad and I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

And this looped on for who knows how long. And when I woke up I thought I mustn’t forget this.
I went up to dad and I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

I really miss my dad.

The grief underpins everything. Sometimes it feels dormant, but just when I think it is safer now, less spiky, it washes over me like an unnoticed wave that I have my back to, plunges me right back into salt and panic.

Last week I spent time with two gorgeous women who reminded me of who I am. This is what friendships should be like; time spent with people who don’t judge, who don’t monologue at me, who don’t insist everything has to be funfunfun, who understand that life is complex, who don’t leave me exhausted and drained, who don’t put me down, but instead lift me. I am so grateful to know these smart, thoughtful, ace people. Thank you KG and KM!

(Photo taken from Worthing pier yesterday. A beautiful day with Si. Calm waves, blue sky, love.)